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Content Marketing for Manufacturers Must Go Deeper than ToFu

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Many manufacturers are using content marketing but few consider it effective in generating leads that turn into sales opportunities. According to the 2014 study done by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 86% of manufacturing marketers use content marketing but only 30% of manufacturing marketers say they are effective at it.

content marketing for manufacturers

Here’s another finding, according to the 2014 Forrester Research/Business Marketing Association/Online Marketing Institute study, while 51% of B2B marketing leaders rate their content marketing practices as very mature, an overwhelming 85% fail to connect content activity to business value — and, as a result, fail to retain customers or win their long-term loyalty.

The two-part problem of content marketing for manufacturers

There are two parts to the problem as I see it when talking to manufacturers. The first part of the problem is that most of them consider industrial content marketing to be a top of the funnel (ToFu) strategy. The assumption is that their target audience will find them in Google, visit their sites and call their sales team. Obviously that is not happening with regularity and therein lies the problem. (See Industrial Web Design – Visit to Call is Not Automatic).

Industrial buyers are behaving very differently now than in the past. These buyers are in self-serve mode for information and are not willing to talk to sales people until they are ready. In short, the buyer not the vendor is in the driver’s seat. Many of these industrial companies are having a great deal of trouble accepting that fact and tend to fall back on old sales and marketing habits which are not working either.

If you too are struggling with that then may be this dose of reality will help you see the light. “Business buyers can now access an abundance of digital information to research and shop for solutions on their own terms,” said Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst Laura Ramos.

In other words, your buyers go through the Awareness, Research and Consideration & Comparison phases of the industrial buy cycle on their own and without ever talking to your sales people.

Second part of the problem is that manufacturers focus their content marketing primarily on top of the funnel (ToFu). They have been told by experts and therefore believe that it is a new strategy for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As a result they are seriously underutilizing content marketing by ignoring the complete sales funnel.

Don’t get me wrong, organic SEO is very much alive and is just as important today as it was in the past. However, SEO has evolved well beyond keywords and keyword rankings. Search engines now reward pages with the right combination of ranking factors, or “signals.” SEO is about ensuring your content generates the right type of signals.

Here’s the Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors from Search Engine Land that illustrates the point very well.

To sum it up, content marketing for manufacturers must go deeper than just ToFu. Content must address all phases of the buyer’s journey; address different needs of various stakeholders involved in the buying decision and your content must be found when and where the target audience is searching for solutions to their problems.

You can’t count on your sales team to fill these needs because they won’t get in front of all the stakeholders and neither will they become aware of the all the internal pushbacks. Create “Champion Content” that will help your primary contact carry the message and sell your solution internally. That’s how manufacturers can use content marketing to accelerate their sales pipelines.

Achinta Mitra

Achinta Mitra calls himself a “marketing engineer” because he combines his engineering education and an MBA with 35+ years of practical manufacturing and industrial marketing experience. You want an expert with an insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s objectivity who can point you in the right direction immediately. That's Achinta. He is the Founder of Tiecas, Inc., a manufacturing marketing agency in Houston, Texas. Read Achinta's story here.
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  1. Tom Repp says:

    Good stuff Anchinta.

    You are right on.

    We are finding more & more industrial marketers are working on content at the middle of the funnel (MOFU) and bottom of the funnel (BOFU) and they are finding the issues/points in your post are accurate.

    HOWEVER, much of the problem is… they never get started.

    Or they get started with no real content strategy. Therefore…I think it is important, AT FIRST, industrial marketers focus on TOFU stuff. That gives them a quick win…meaning they will get more web traffic right away. Having those quick wins is important for management and company buy-in. As your goal is… create a culture of content. (i.e. top-of-mind awareness and industrial brand building)

    From the TOFU stuff, then start focusing MOFU & BOFU and the whole lead nurturing thing.

    Point being…Start with good TOFU…get some wins…then move down the funnel.

    Chuck: The best way to find keywords you do not know or have not researched for your content is LISTENING to your customers. When they ask questions, they will tell you long-tail keywords. Do not worry if Google/Wordtracker/etc. says no one searches on those keywords. Focus on these long-tail keywords, that your customer told you about, and build your content around them for more quick wins.

    Take care all…Tom

    • Achinta Mitra says:


      Thanks for agreeing and for sharing your experiences.

      I too am a big believer of taking baby steps and achieving incremental results for buy-in from upper management. That’s what I tell my clients who are just getting started with content marketing. For examples of successful ToFu content, see “Successful Industrial Marketing Content for TOFU.” As you have said and I agree, developing a content marketing strategy is very important.

      The problem that I am seeing on the ground is that sometimes Marketing gets so excited about their success from ToFu that they are too eager to hand off those leads to Sales. Needless to say Sales comes back with the pat answer, “these are crappy leads.”

      There is some truth to that because these are nothing more than Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and need more qualifying to turn them into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). Content marketing gets the blame for poor conversion and the whole thing gets scrapped even before anything gets done about MoFu and BoFu.

      I’ll borrow a football analogy by Joe Pulizzi of CMI, ToFu can get you to the 35 yard line but it is hard to score from that distance.

  2. Chuck Lohre says:

    Thanks for sharing that great graphic. We really work on the content, using the keywords you want to be found in and wonder about what keywords we don’t know.

    • Achinta Mitra says:


      Thanks for your input and the kind words.

  3. Bob McCarthy says:

    Point well taken, Achinta

    It’s true, manufacturers need to provide content to serve prospects later in the buying process.

    But once you create that content, how will they hear about it?

    You can’t keep hoping they will find you again and again through search.

    You need to capture those visitors when they first arrive – with lead magnets and lead forms. You need to get them on your email list and stay in touch at an appropriate level until they are ready to talk to you.

    The goal should not be to turn those SEO visitors into customers. That would be great, but unrealistic.

    No, the goal should be to turn those SEO visitors into leads and then plan for a long-term lead nurturing program.

    Once prospects are on your list, you can keep them up to date and share all that great content to help through the tail end of the buying process.

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